Michigan tour builds support for National day of student & worker actions

By Bryan G. Pfeifer
Detroit

In an effort to help mobilize actions in Michigan for the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education, organizer and FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) leader Larry Hales engaged a diverse range of student-workers at numerous locations during an exciting tour of the state Feb. 1-4.

Larry Hales, left.
Larry Hales, left.
Photo: Bryan G. Pfeifer

The tour, organized in conjunction with Detroit FIST, kicked off Feb. 1 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor at the William Monroe Trotter Cultural Center, a building originally won in the early 1970s by Black students and their allies on that campus by protests, occupations and a strike led by the Black Action Movement.

“While students are on the move nationally, which is evident in the growth of the March 4 National Day of Action, it is the linkage of the student movement with workers that is imperative,” Hales said at the Ann Arbor meeting.

Students at Mumford High School in Detroit heard Hales at a Black History Month Forum on Feb. 2. Mumford, once known nationwide as a stellar school, has been devastated by budget cuts, the defunding of public education and the elimination of affirmative action in Michigan. Many seats in the auditorium where Hales spoke were broken and unusable and students had to enter the school through metal detectors, have their backpacks searched by private security guards and their bodies searched with electronic wands.

Hales engaged the students with a wide scope of revolutionary Black history. He called for the students to join in the organizing for March 4, to resist their oppressive conditions and to protest the military recruiters in their school.

“I follow in the footsteps of Denmark Vesey, John Brown, Gabriel Prosser, Malcolm X and Fred Hampton. I’m a political activist, a revolutionary,” Hales told the Mumford students.

He added, “You should not have to go to a school with metal detectors, with chairs in this auditorium that don’t work or to join the military to kill people that look just like you. We’re sick and tired of being treated like criminals. We can win but we have to fight and struggle for human needs.”

On Feb. 3 Hales joined the student organizations Alleft, the Undergraduate Alliance and the Michigan State University chapter of Students for a Democratic Society at a rally at the East Lansing campus. Activists gathered at the MSU administration building to protest education cuts and then marched five miles to the state Capitol building in Lansing.

All along the march route the students and their allies were menaced by cops but stood their ground chanting and hoisting their placards and banners. A March 4 banner declared, “Jobs and Education: Not War and Jails! Bail Out the Students — Not the Banks!”

Upon entering the state Capitol grounds, the students were welcomed by the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, which was having a rally at the Capitol to demand that Gov. Jennifer Granholm issue an immediate state of economic emergency in Michigan and declare a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility cutoffs. Granholm was inside giving her final “state of the state” address as governor.

Members of the student organizations and Moratorium NOW! joined forces to directly confront the racist Tea Party members who had been given a permit to rally on the Capitol steps. Directly confronting the racists and then the state cops who formed a line between the two groups to protect the Tea Party, students and their allies chanted “Power to the students! Power to the workers!” and other slogans.

After the Capitol actions, a meeting organized by SDS took place at MSU. As at the Ann Arbor meeting, students discussed possible actions for March 4 in East Lansing and statewide and shared literature and contacts for mobilizing purposes.

On Feb. 4 Hales addressed a noon class at Wayne County Community College in downtown Detroit, where a lively conversation about contemporary economic, social and political issues took place. Leaflets were given to the students and discussion ensued about possible March 4 organizing activities in Detroit.

Wrapping up his tour at an evening meeting on Feb. 4 at the Detroit FIST and Moratorium NOW! office, Hales described his tour and encouraged the audience to build March 4 activities in Detroit and statewide. Other speakers included members of the Restaurant Opportunities Center-United and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition. A multinational group of labor, community and student activists from various cities in Michigan participated in the meeting.

Said Hales at the Feb. 4 meeting: “Detroit is a city with boarded-up schools, shuttered factories, boarded-up homes, no grocery stores and closed businesses. The children of Detroit and their families have long been neglected and abused by the conditions of the system. The prospect of linking the struggle of the unemployed and underemployed and the attacks against workers, which include foreclosures and evictions and the attacks on public education, with the student struggle is greatest in Detroit. This points the way for the direction of the struggle that is needed to win worker and student power.”

For more information on March 4 organizing, visit defendeducation.org or fistyouth.wordpress.com.

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